Excessive iodine intake during pregnancy in Somali refugees

Matern Child Nutr. 2012 Jan;8(1):49-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-8709.2010.00259.x.


Iodine deficiency and excess are both associated with adverse health consequences, with fetuses, children and pregnant women being most vulnerable to the devastating effects of severe deficiency. It is often assumed that the iodine status of a population if displaced or in a remote or emergency situation is low. However, there is little evidence available to support this assumption, especially among long-term food-aid-dependent pregnant women. An effectiveness trial of a prenatal multiple-micronutrient supplement that contained 150 µg day(-1) iodine was conducted in two refugee camps in the North Eastern Province of Kenya in 2002. Urinary iodine concentration (UIC) was measured in a subsample of pregnant women attending antenatal care in Dagahaley (control camp) (n = 74) and Ifo (intervention camp) (n = 63). There was no significant difference in median UIC between the two camps (P = 0.118). The combined median UIC was 730 µg L(-1) (interquartile range, 780) (5.77 µmol L(-1)) and exceeded the upper safe limit of 500 µg L(-1) (3.95 µmol L(-1)) for pregnant women (P < 0.001), indicating excessive iodine intake. About 20% of the study subjects had 'more than adequate' urinary iodine, while over 71% had excessive UIC. Salt iodine content varied between 5.1 and 80.1 ppm in the five market salt samples analysed. In conclusion, excessive iodine intake was evident in the Dadaab refugee camps. Further research needs to be conducted to investigate the source of excess iodine, to determine the measures needed to address excessive iodine intake and to reconsider the World Health Organization/World Food Programme/United Nations Children's Fund guidance on supplementation of vulnerable groups in emergencies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diet Surveys
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Iodine / administration & dosage*
  • Iodine / adverse effects*
  • Iodine / chemistry
  • Iodine / deficiency
  • Iodine / urine
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Refugees* / statistics & numerical data
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Somalia
  • Young Adult


  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary
  • iodized salt
  • Iodine